by Annie Randall, Gaia Intern
Few environmental campaigns have demonstrated such commitment, solidarity, and focus on an international scale as the students involved with Fossil Free. Fossil Free is a global divestment movement, calling on colleges, universities, cities, religious institutions and pension funds to remove their assets from fossil fuel companies. The campaign was launched by Bill McKibben in 2012, as part of the 350.org organization. Since then it has gathered enormous momentum, with individual campaigns at over 300 colleges and universities, 105 cities and states and six religious institutions. Fossil Free at Santa Cruz (FFUCSC) is part of the bigger University of California Divestment movement: Fossil Free University of California (FFUC). Here, in a collective interview, I speak to Margaux Schindler and Alden Phinney who help lead the UCSC campus campaign.
Firstly, what exactly is divestment?
Divestment is the opposite of investment. It’s essentially the removal of assets from a company or corporation. The Fossil Fuel Divestment campaign acts to create a social stigma against companies purposefully investing in the destruction of our planet. But it’s just one of the mainy strategies in our solution based organisation. It’s not the ‘be all and end all’, which is important to note, but one major step in the right direction. If we want positive things to come out of the world then we need to put positive things into it!
Why do universities play such a key role in this movement?
The University of California has a lot of money invested in fossil fuels, but also a social standing on creating a brighter future for its students. It only makes sense when fostering this kind of environment to question such investments. If the university is supposed to be a sign of societal progress, supposed to be educating and promoting greater intelligence across the board, then it should be promoting actions like divestment. It would be hypocritical not to do so.
Tell us more about your roles as campus divestment leaders.
[Margaux] : I focus on the actual day-to-day runnings of Fossil Free, or have ended up taking on that role a lot more. This means receiving notification emails, and ensuring that everyone involved feels they can contribute and have an independent power within the organization. I also want them to take ownership of what this campaign is and what they are doing, to help to them become empowered protesters and advocates. There is also a lot of faculty outreach, using my connections as an RA to get more faculty and staff members involved, but also connecting to outside organizations and communities on campus.
Part of what we do definitely wants to make sure that marginalized communities are also getting their voices heard. We are slowly connecting off campus, but we are a student movement so a lot more focused on the students. More recently, we have been starting to incorporate the campaign into the academic system, with mentions in Gaia and the offering of classes to educate more students. But this needs faculty support to garner that systematic change, and clear messaging on how to say what we want to say.
[Alden] : I’m more involved with FFUC [Fossil Free University of California] and movement building beyond the individual campus campaigns. Often these are Regents related things, organised through conference calls. There are regional calls, strategy calls, and just using your voice to make a difference in the long-term, which is fulfilling. Across the UCs, we’ve been working on legislation, bringing it in to the California senate and developing an environmental social governance investing framework, which we hope will lead to the dropping of high carbon assets.
SFSU, Stanford, Pitzer College, De Anza and Foothill Colleges have all divested in some way, and there’s now quite a strong coalition between the UC campuses. Do you think UCSC will be soon to join?
Yes, from when it started to what it is now momentum has increased exponentially. It’s very slowly but very surely entering people’s mindsets. People have been waiting for this as as student movement and faculty, staff, and students are glad that there is some kind of group to be involved in. Especially now that we are getting more involved with other organisations. It’s definitely taking off.
How can students get involved with Fossil Free?
In many ways! If they want to do “slacktivism”, they can do online petitions, like our Facebook group, join the Google group, or follow FFUC on Twitter. Then, the next level step is attending meetings and events we are tabling at. The further level is to jump on the internship bandwagon, talk to professors, faculty staff and peers. We’re hoping to organize more independent events on campus in future. Help us plan days of action at a systematic level as a student empowerment movement. There are a lot of diverse things students can do, from working with legislators to holding a rally – all single acts that contribute to a bigger group effort!
If you’d like more information on how to get involved:
‘Like’ the FFUCSC divestment page to get involved locally
or just send an email to Margaux or Alden!
Also, watch out for Global Divestment Day, February 13-14 2015, where thousands of people will be taking part in a collective action across the globe!